Updated January 27, 2021
I have no idea how most cat owners end up choosing a cat litter. If my experiences are anything to go by, it’s trial and error. I doubt they try more than a few before settling on a favourite.
This is a vet review of the common and popular types of cat litter in stores. I’ll help you understand:
- the choices of cat litter
- the problems with each type
- and the evidence for which ones cats prefer
Popular Cat Litter Choices
The following table shows the top 21 cat litters sold on an Australian website*. I’ve ranked them on number of reviews and star rating to give you an idea of popularity.
The brands will change in other countries and stores, but the type of products available should be the same. See also the readers’ comments at the end about Tofu litter.
|Brand of Litter||Rating/5||Type of Cat Litter||Compost||Clumping|
|Breeders Choice||4.8 (308)||Recycled paper||Yes||No|
|Rufus & Coco||4.3 (151)||Corn, binding agent||Yes?||Yes|
|OzPet||4.7 (105)||Wood pellets||Yes||No|
|Catsan Ultra||4.7 (82)||Bentonite clay||No||Yes|
|Cat Mate||4.9 (52)||Wood pellets||Yes||No|
|CatLux||4.6 (47)||Wood & bentonite||No||Yes|
|Scrunch & Sticks||4.9 (44)||Recycled paper||Yes||No|
|Applaws||4.6 (38)||Walnut shell fibre||Yes||Yes|
|Feline First||4.6 (38)||Bentonite clay||No||Yes|
|Natty Cat||4.5 (36)||Lucerne pellets||Yes||Yes|
|Catsan||4.6 (32)||Silica gel crystals||No||No|
|Trouble & Trix||4.4 (28)||Silica crystals||No||No|
|The Catsentials||4.6 (24)||Silica gel crystals||No||No|
|Max’s||4.5 (21)||Rice hull pellet||Yes||No|
|Trouble & Trix||4.8 (20)||Soy extract||Yes||Yes|
|Trouble & Trix||4.6 (19)||Bentonite, zeolite||Yes||No|
|PooWee||4.9 (18)||Bentonite clay||No||Yes|
|Misty’s||3.8 (17)||Bentonite clay||No||Yes|
|Trouble & Trix||4.9 (14)||Clay, lavender scent||No||Yes|
|Trouble & Trix||4.6 (13)||Silica antibacterial||No||No|
|Purina Tidy Cats||4.4 (13)||Clay||No||Yes|
Clumping refers to litters that bind together when they get wet. This means you can often remove just the soiled parts neatly and leave the rest. If so, the whole tray should still be emptied and cleaned monthly.
Compostable is my personal judgement only, and cannot be guaranteed safe (especially for food crops) without written proof from the company. You should also be aware of toxoplasmosis. However, it’s a general rule that the litters of plant origin will break down well and can go back on the garden once composted. In fact, the nitrogen from cat urine appears to help balance lawn clippings if layered.
Many companies also claim their products are flushable. I have concerns about putting this much solid material into our public sanitation systems. Most claim their products are biodegradable, which seems fairly meaningless. I certainly would not be putting clay or silica on my garden.
So let’s make sense of this. Despite the confusion, there are only really four types of cat litter. I’ll discuss the pros and cons of each.
Clay usually refers to bentonite or zeolite.
- Clumping is a feature almost entirely of clay based litters
- Dust is a potential hazard (see below)
- Odour seems more obvious
- Tracking is more common with clay
Tracking is when litter gets caught between the toes and the cats tread it around the house.
Silica is the main ingredients of the crystal litters designed to absorb urine.
- Low odour
- Low tracking
- More expensive
- Dust concerns
- Very different in appearance so cats may need time to adjust
Cat litter can be made from many natural fibres.
- Mostly compostable
- Low tracking (except rice hulls)
- Lower dust hazard
- Low odour (but often have an smell of their own)
- Clumping is rare without other additives
- Probably least preferred by cats (see below)
- Can attract insects if not cleaned
These are the older type whitish granules you now mostly only see in unbranded cat litters. They are problematic for smell, tracking, absorbency, dust and only really stand out on price.
The Dust Hazard Issue
I personally think that we have yet to fully grasp the seriousness of dust in cat litters. Most clays and silicas create a cloud of dust when disturbed which is easily inhaled. This might be a problem in two scenarios:
- Cats digging in the litter inhale dust which may cause or exacerbate respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
- Owners inhale dust when changing litter. You only have to look at the known hazards of silica dust in the workplace to appreciate this.
It is for the dust issue alone that I only use plant-based litters in my home and workplace. While not dust-free, there is noticeably less, and the type of dust is probably less harmful.
Cat Litter Preferences
So which litters do cats prefer? Here’s what the studies found:
- A preference for clay or silica over wood-based pellets1
- No difference between clay, clumping or sand3
- A preference for unscented litter3
- No difference between scented and unscented litter2 & 4
- No preference for clumping vs unclumping2
- A preference for clumping litter5 & 6
As you can see, there’s disagreement and no clear answer. But this isn’t bad news. My personal view is that litter type and scent are probably not very important.
So Which Litter???
I would choose cat litter based on two factors:
- The features mentioned above like odour, tracking, clumping, compostability, dust and of course, cost
- The litter that your cat prefers!
Of course, if you want to change you can, just be careful. Cats get very set in their ways. When starting a new litter, it’s always a good idea to do it slowly by mixing the two together for a while.
Other Factors Influencing Litter Use
Beyond the choice of litter, studies have also shown the following are important:
- Depth of litter: cats prefer deeper litter
- Frequency of cleaning: daily is best (at least the soiled parts)
- Size of tray: an 86cm by 39cm box is better than 56cm by 38cm
Despite suspicions, studies have so far failed to show that position of the tray or number of trays is important. That doesn’t mean we don’t try these too when problems occur.
If the thought of handling cat litter at all is too much for you, there are two other options:
- Automated self cleaning cat litter boxes such as CatGenie
- Defaecation directly into a flushing toilet using a special attachment (this is not possible for some individuals and always hard to train)
That’s it. I hope you’ve appreciated this review of cat litters and the complete lack of toilet puns. It wasn’t easy. Feel free to add your personal experiences below.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!
- Villeneuve-Beugnet, V., & Beugnet, F. (2018). Field assessment of cats’ litter box substrate preferences. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 25, 65-70.
- Sung, S.L. Crowell-Davis. (2006). Elimination behavior patterns of domestic cats (Felis catus) with and without elimination behavior problems. Am J Vet Res, 67, 1500-1504.
- Horwitz, D. F. (1997). Behavioral and environmental factors associated with elimination behavior problems in cats: a retrospective study. Appl Anim Behav Sci, 52, 129-137.
- Neilson, J. C. (2011). Litter preference in cats: scented vs. unscented. Schedule of Events, 2011 ACVB/AVSAB Scientific Program, 6-9.
- Smith, K., Dreschel, N.A. (2008). A comparison of cat preferences for litterbox substrates. AVSAB Newsletter, 30, 6-7.
- Neilson. (2001) Pearl vs. Clumping: Litter Preference in a Population of Shelter Cats. American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, Boston, 14.
* The information on reviews and litter type was taken from the petcircle.com.au on 1 Feb, 2020.